Category Archives: Resources

Book Review: Wear No Evil by Greta Eagan

wear-no-evilI know I’ve been on a kick lately talking about Fair Trade, but I really feel that opportunity is the key to poverty and hunger alleviation. And I think that there is something we can do about it. During the month of October, I will be posting daily on the Food Shelf Friday Facebook page about different resources to help you with your holiday shopping. I’ll be showcasing fair trade companies and ways that your spending can do good. Follow Food Shelf Friday on Facebook (be sure you turn on notifications!), or search hashtag #FSFShoptober.

In addition to that new resource, I also have a quick book review for you – Wear No Evil by Greta Eagan.

Greta Eagan is a fashion insider. But the more she learned about the industry, the more she became alarmed at what a broken system the fashion industry has become. In the past, most people owned just a handful of outfits, and cared for them to get as much out of their clothing as possible. Clothes were handed down, altered, and fabrics were repurposed. Today, we own tons of clothing items, and we freely toss them when they get worn, or when we just get bored of them. Clothes used to be made by artisans, from quality materials (especially designer clothes). Today they’re made of cheap materials, artificial dyes, and toxic synthetic fibers by underpaid workers in unsafe conditions. Even high-cost designer clothes are made this way. Manufacturers’ standards have fallen in order to keep profits high.

It’s more than just fair trade labor practices. Our wasteful fashion choices use tons of water, fill landfills with waste, and pollute the environment with burning fossil fuels and toxic dyes. Wear No Evil identifies sixteen factors we should look for in our clothing choices:

– Natural/Low Impact Dyes – Dyes that are not toxic to the environment
– Natural Fibers – Synthetic fibers don’t biodegrade
– Organic – Fibers grown without using chemicals like pesticides and synthetic fertilizers
– Fair Trade – The growers and workers were paid a fair wage at every stage of the production process
– Recycled/Upcycled – An item made from recycled fibers or repurposed parts of an old item
– Secondhand – An item that has belonged to someone else
– Local – Produced in the United States or sold by a local small business
– Social – A portion of the proceeds benefits a social cause
– Zero Waste – The production process is efficient so there is no waste
– Convertible – The item can be used in more than one way or for more than one occasion so you get more use out of it
– Vegan – There were no animal parts involved in the production of the item
– Low Water Footprint – Water-saving measures were used to minimize the amount of water required to grow the fibers or produce the item
– Transparent – The company is upfront about their process/supply chain/etc.
– Cradle to Cradle – The company has a plan for the item from production to recycling/repurposing
– Slow Fashion – The company values artistry and a well-thought out process
– Style – Do you like it? Does it fit your life?

That’s a lot. I know. You won’t find a single item that hits every goal, and quite frankly you probably don’t care about all of them anyway. Eagan suggests you start every purchase with the style questions: Do I love this? Does it suit my lifestyle? Then she suggests you pick three other goals that are important to you. When you consider a purchase that passes your style question, you can then consider if it meets your other top goals.

My top considerations, after style, are fair trade, second hand, and social. When I find an item I love, it has to be either fair trade, secondhand, or raise money for a cause I believe in. The more goals an item hits, the more likely I am to purchase. For example, I recently needed to buy some socks. I’m not getting socks secondhand, so I went looking for the style and size I needed from a company that uses fair trade practices. I found them at Pact, and in addition to being fair trade, they’re organic, natural cotton fibers, and my purchase supported the company’s social giving as well. Bonus!

The book gives you a really positive way to consider ethical shopping without getting overwhelmed. Eagan suggests that you keep the items you have and love, and care for them as well as possible. She recommends doing less shopping. And she recommends that you shop your priorities rather than getting hung up on the impossible search for the socially, environmentally, and economically perfect item.

The downside of this book is that the first half, talking about the goals and the importance of each one, is timeless, but the second half, a look at current fashion and designers, won’t be up to date for long (it came out in 2014). There are lots of great designers and websites suggested all throughout, but that info will get outdated.  If you’re looking to make some changes to your buying habits, it’s a great starting point. But it’s going to show its age in just a couple years.

What are your favorite ethical retailers? Share in the comments!

Freedom

Sell your crap

I found this quote on Pinterest, and it led me to Adam Baker’s website, Man vs. Debt, and his popular Ted Talk. What appeals to me about Baker’s quote, site, and Ted Talk is the absolute freedom of that mindset. Getting rid of debt and excess stuff allows you to be flexible, nimble, and agile. It just sounds so empowering.

I’m not a “stuff” person, meaning that I don’t have strong emotional attachments to things, and that’s weird for an historian. Most of my colleagues hold on to stuff, because physical objects are tangible pieces of our history. Items tell stories, and they connect us to the past. So it’s weird for an historian to be so anti-stuff. I blame my family’s regular moves when I was growing up; the more possessions you have the harder it is to move. Not that I live a spartan life, either. The longer I’ve lived in one place (15 years yesterday!), the more stuff has accumulated in the nooks and crannies of my life. And not just precious memorabilia, either. I have an abundance of papers, craft supplies I no longer use, and don’t even get me started on the wide variety of sizes and seasons of clothing I have stashed!

My lack of attachment to stuff, and the fact that my clothes seem to reproduce while I’m asleep leads to regular purging. My mom, sister and I have an annual garage sale, and unsold items get donated right away. But we follow the donation dropoff with an afternoon of shopping, so the cycle continues.

But I long for that freedom. I want to get to the point where my thesis no longer hangs over my head. I want to own my money instead of owing it. I want to consider possibilities and not have to say, “maybe someday.”

If you feel like I do, I challenge you to make a step in the direction of freedom. Toss some dead-weight junk, like papers and old, worn clothes. Sell some excess stuff that has value to someone else. Finish that project that’s hanging over your life (preaching to myself on that one…). Stop shopping for stuff you can live without (again, preaching to myself), and make progress on your debts. Get free. Reclaim your life. Do what you love.

I have a printable “clutter cutter challenge” for you to help you get started. And be sure to check out the Man vs. Debt website for great articles on successfully selling your stuff!

Clutter Cutter

My Hunger “Bucket List”

My Hunger Bucket List

Are you familiar with the concept of a “bucket list?” The idea is just a list of things you really want to accomplish before you “kick the bucket.” Some people have a literal checklist, but most of us just have general ideas. For example, my bucket list includes visiting Paris (I studied French in high school and college), to see the Eiffel Tower and the Mona Lisa in person. Even if you’ve never heard of a bucket list, I’ll bet you’ve dreamed about things you want to do before you die.

I have a Food Shelf Friday bucket list as well – things I want to do or experience as I advocate for the world’s hungry. So today, I’m going to share those dreams with you.

  1. Meet my Compassion child: I’ve told you before about my friend Edouard, whom we sponsor through Compassion International. One of the great things about Compassion is that they can also arrange for you to meet your sponsored child if you visit his or her area. They even plan missions trips a couple times a year and take sponsors to different parts of the world to serve and meet their kids. They just went to Burkina Faso last year, and Edouard is pretty young yet, but I would really love to do this when he’s older and we have more history together.
  2. Build and maintain a revolving portfolio of microfinance loans: Microfinance is another topic I’ve covered previously. At the time when I first shared this revolutionary tool, I also made my first loan through Kiva. Loans pay back in five years, and the money can be reinvested in another loan at that time or cashed out. My plan is to make a new loan twice a year (December and April), until I have ten loans out there. At that point the first one will pay back and will fund the 11th. My investment, built during the first five years, will become a self-feeding revolving portfolio of investments. Of course, not all loans successfully pay back, but the occasional failed loan can be replaced by a new investment on my part. Now, that may sound like a lot of business mumbo jumbo, but it’s not as elaborate and complicated as it seems. Kiva does all the work for me; I just invest about $30 at a time and pick a project that I would like to fund. So far, my first two loans have been agricultural and seem to be loans that will yield long-term opportunity for the lenders.
  3. Transition my wardrobe from “fast fashion” to fair trade: Like microfinance, fair trade is a long-term, sustainable way to provide opportunity, and thus poverty and hunger relief, for people around the world. I am determined to care for my wardrobe, making things last as long as possible, and to replace things (when needed) with items that were made with fair employment practices that empower rather than imprison the workers.
  4. Continue to develop a personal reputation for serving others: When someone has a need for volunteers, I want them to think of me. Not because I want the recognition, but because I want more opportunities to love and serve. I want my life to be an offering to God, and for Him to put me to work loving and serving others the way Jesus did.
  5. Develop Food Shelf Friday’s reputation as a resource: Bloggers try really hard not to get caught up in the numbers, especially faith-based and non-profit blogs. We’re torn between wanting God to build His kingdom as He sees fit, and peeking at the stats to see if we’re doing a good job.
    It’s really not about the numbers, anyway. I would rather have a hundred people know about Food Shelf Friday if it blesses and informs their efforts and service than to have a million followers who don’t read the blog, or only come here for a laugh.
    And yet… I feel that this blog is something God has called me to do, and that the information I offer here is valuable. It does no good if I share it with an empty room, right?
    So as you can see, it’s a back-and-forth debate. In the end, I do care if people read my blog, and I work hard to build a social media following, find opportunities to write for other publications, and provide you with well-researched and interesting content. I really want Food Shelf Friday to succeed, and I want it to be a tool that you use as you make decisions about your lifestyle and plans to serve those in need. I repeat (as I often do) that I will NEVER use guilt and sad pictures to prod you into action. Your motivation should come from your own beliefs and the spirit’s convictions. Food Shelf Friday is just a tool to help you act on those convictions. You should never have cause to fear what you’ll see on this site or on my social media feeds.

 

Obviously I have a ways to go. Hopefully I’ll have many years to reach and refine, and I’m sure I’ll come up with many more dreams as well! Leave a comment with some of your bucket list dreams (personal or service-based), and/or topics you would like to see covered here on Food Shelf Friday. I welcome your feedback!

Finding Balance: Nutrition vs. Non-perishables

balance

Take a look through a grocery aisle of canned goods or a glance at your own home pantry, and you’ll notice that non-perishables aren’t the healthiest foods. In order for them to keep long-term, they’re packed full of sodium and other preservatives, and they tend to run a little light on nutrients. But there are things that we can do to maximize the nutrient value of our food shelf donations.

 

 

  1. Choose whole-grains: White rice and pasta fill your belly and provide energy-giving simple carbohydrates, but not much else. Complex carbohydrates from whole grains have a lot more to offer, like higher amounts of fiber, selenium, potassium, and magnesium.
  2. Watch out for sugar: If you’re a label-reader, you know that they put sugar in EVERYTHING! Some sugar is natural, of course, but a lot of it is added and unnecessary, and most Americans eat way too much of it. They put sugar in ketchup, salsa, salad dressings, cereal, juice, and canned fruit. It can really add up! Read labels, for yourself and your food shelf donations.

    heinz-ingredients-toxic-mercury
    Ingredient list from a name-brand ketchup bottle
    (also note the sodium. 160 mg just for a condiment!?!)

  3. Choose low-sodium options: Like sugar, sodium is in everything, and most of us are getting way more than is healthy for us. Sodium is added to canned goods as an inexpensive preservative. It’s an important nutrient the body needs to regulate hydration, but too much can cause, or at least exacerbate health conditions like high blood pressure and heart disease. Avoid donating high-sodium, low-nutrient foods like ramen noodles, and instead pick reduced-sodium foods with nutritional value, like vegetables.

    top-ramen-nutrition-facts-ingredients1
    Nutrition label from ramen noodles

    Green-Beans
    Image borrowed from fitness blog http://www.howdoigetripped.com – clicking the image will take you to the original source.

  4. Support food shelves that offer fresh foods: Obviously, if you live in a small town there probably won’t be a variety of food shelf options, and operations of all sized offer valuable services that deserve our support. But in most metropolitan areas there are food shelves that offer more than just canned goods. Bigger operations offer fresh veggies and meats, breads, baby care items, and more. If possible, support food shelf efforts to provide their clients with nutritious foods.

 

Eating a healthy diet when you depend on the food shelf’s non-perishable offerings is a challenge, but mindful donors can take steps to minimize the supply of salt- and sugar-laden canned goods and instead offer more nutritious fare. Share your additional ideas and experiences in the comments!

A Brief History of Welfare in America

brief history of welfare

This week I listened to another audiobook courtesy of the Overdrive app and my local library. If you have a smart phone, tablet, or e-reader, I highly recommend you ask your local library if they have the Overdrive app available. There are tons of audiobooks and e-books you can check out for free.
Anyway, when I was scrolling through audio titles recently, I came upon a book called $2.00 A Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America by Kathryn Edin and H. Luke Shaefer. My first response to the cover material and introduction was skepticism. For as much as I know about poverty and hunger, I still did not believe that this extreme level of poverty was possible in America. Between SNAP, Medicare/Medicaid, Social Security Disability, welfare, WIC, private charities, and private donations, I could not believe that there were people with no job AND who were turned down from these social security nets.

As the authors, a sociology professor and a social work professor, began to unwrap their research, I could see the pockets of this level of destitution that exist here in the United States. I still had trouble finding sympathy for some of the subjects because of their terrible life choices. The authors did not go digging for the most innocent victims of poverty, to be sure. I am also not completely sold on some of their conclusions. Their plan involves a lot of expansion in government services and job creation, yet they offer few if any suggestions about how to fund such programs.

But feelings and solutions aside, the most valuable part of this book in my opinion was the historical context it gave to American welfare programs. So using this book as my source, today’s post is a review of that history.

The Great Depression
Prior to the Great Depression in the 1930s, government welfare programs were virtually unheard of in the United States. But when things got desperate, President Franklin Roosevelt enacted several pieces of legislation aimed at putting Americans back to work and providing for those who were unable to care for themselves. Many of the programs (such as the Works Progress Administration which put Americans to work on public works programs) expired or were discontinued when the Depression ended. Others continue even to this day, including Social Security for the elderly and disabled, Medicare and Medicaid health insurance. One of the programs that came out of the Depression era was Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC), commonly known as welfare. AFDC provided a cash safety net for families with children who found themselves in a desperate situation.

The Great Society
In the 1960s, President Lyndon Johnson greatly expanded social service programs, including AFDC, as part of his “Great Society” initiatives. Johnson’s goal was to eliminate poverty and racial inequality in America through a series of legislation which expanded existing social programs like Social Security, AFDC, food stamps, and Medicare/Medicaid. It also created Head Start, the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

The 1970s and 1980s
Reaction to the Great Society programs were mixed. While it provided tremendously for struggling Americans, many felt that it rewarded indolence and unwed procreation. Edin and Schaefer argue that welfare was widely unpopular after the Great Society because it was at odds with deeply held American values like self-sufficiency, the primacy of family, and the value of hard work. They site a study where the majority of Americans in a survey group stated that they believed that the government was not doing enough to help the poor, and in the same survey they responded that welfare was too expensive. Americans were concerned that welfare was trapping people in a cycle of dependency, and they complained of costly abuses of the system. Ronald Reagan made welfare reform a campaign issue in the late 1970s, and the popular support for welfare reform helped get him elected.
Also during this time, the food stamps program was renamed SNAP, and a program using an Electronic Balance Transfer (EBT) card rather than paper food stamps was instituted to cut down on the (illegal) sale of food stamps, a popular survival strategy for people with no cash income.

Welfare Reform
For all the rhetoric, Reagan was not able to push though significant welfare reform. The issue continued to be a popular campaign topic but difficult to enact. In 1991/92, Democratic Presidential candidate Bill Clinton took up the mantle, promising to “end welfare as we know it.” Once elected, President Clinton set out to reform the welfare system using aspects of a plan proposed by Harvard professor Dr. David Ellwood. Elwood’s plan proposed a system that encouraged work through a combination of cash welfare and job training, with limits on welfare that would encourage individuals to wean off the system and guaranteed jobs in government if nothing was available in the private sector. As the various welfare bills made their way through committees, the House, the Senate, and onto the President’s desk (where two welfare reform bills were vetoed), the legislation looked less and less like Ellwood had imagined. The final result was the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996, which virtually eliminated welfare as we knew it and instituted a new work-based program. It replaced AFDC with Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), a program that supplied cash welfare with strict time limits and work requirements designed to prevent long-term welfare dependence. The results have been mixed. Proponents are quick to point out that the welfare rolls have shrunk dramatically, but opponents point out that the number of families suffering from lack of resources, and the strain on private charities have increased as a result of the reforms.

The System Today
The TANF program was reauthorized in 2005 with slight adjustments. Following the advent of the Great Recession in 2008, Congress enacted the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, a temporary addition to TANF designed to get Americans through the recession. It provided a temporary TANF emergency fund (2009-10) as well as jobs programs aimed at stimulating the economy and improving American infrastructure through public works programs.
In 2010 the TANF program was reauthorized for a second time.

It’s not easy to tell the whole story of American welfare in 1000-ish words. I know this does not cover every argument for and against the programs. But it does provide you with a basic understanding of how we got to where we are today. Edin and Schafer argue that the old system was out of sync with American values and full of holes, but they also argue that the current system leaves many people with few legal options. They propose further reforms that focus on wage and workplace protections, and work opportunities, among other ideas.

This feels a bit scary, like opening Pandora’s Box, but if we agree to be civil I think we can have this discussion. What POSITIVE changes would you like to see in the way the federal government treats the poor? More mental health services? An increase in the minimum wage? Leave a comment!